Reader Flexes Consumer Powers

A loyal Consumerist reader, Chris has developed incredible abilities. Not only can he recognize both good and bad customer service, he can reward and punish it with a powerful consumer weapon: the letter to management.

While the issue is small, a glass of ice tea usually filled, going unfilled, it serves to illustrate a bigger point. Standing up for how you feel about how businesses treat you reaps tangible results.

A parable, if you will, after the jump…


Chris writes:

“Austin, Texas is good for more than just Amy’s Ice Cream (which, if you avoid using your credit card to buy it, is still a fine experience indeed). No, we have other eateries here as well, and a small local chain combined with my newfound Consumerist attitude made for an interesting experience, all due to a glass of iced tea.

The Parmer/North Austin location of McAlister’s Deli strongly promotes their iced tea. It’s a fine iced tea, too, and if you live anywhere in the Southern U.S. of A., a good glass of iced tea is something you look for. One of the things I got hooked on at McAlister’s is that in the dining room, the roving servers will often see your empty glass, and say “Hey! How about a refill?” and then go off and get it for you (free, of course). First you’re surprised by it, then you get used to it, then eventually you come to expect it.

Anyway, this one particular experience started out well – the front counter person (Nina) was capable and friendly, and the person who served me my food (Luke) was friendly and quick (they always introduce themselves at McAlister’s, a nice touch). But then Luke went on break, and the person who took over the dining room went to almost comical efforts to avoid walking by me: he cleaned every section EXCEPT the one I was in; he was very careful not to make eye contact; and he once even took a serpentine path to serve a table behind me just to avoid walking by my empty glass, sitting obviously and beseechingly on the edge of the table. After about 30 minutes of this, Luke must have come off break, and as soon as he came out the first time, he went right by me and asked after my iced tea, and soon returned with a new glass brimming with chilly caffeinated goodness.

On the one hand, I was happy to have my iced tea, but I was also Consumeristed-Off over the guy who had gone to such pains to ignore me. So, I got home and fired off a letter to the manager of the restaurant, naming names of the Good, and describing the looks of the Bad (which was all I had, as he never came close enough for me to get his name off his nametag).

I just got a letter back from the manager, who thanked me for taking the time to praise Luke and Nina, and told me that he had awarded both of them with a “Service Award” (a paid day off or a gift certificate). Good for him (and them!). He also told me that he thought that the not-so-friendly server has recently “parted ways” with them, but if I returned and saw him there again, to please get his name and let the manager know who it was, and the manager would “address the situation” with him.

This isn’t a national media kind of story, of course – I mean, it’s just a glass of iced tea – but I thought it worthy of mention not only because I have the satisfaction of a sort of virtual Sword of Damocles in my hand (if the Bad server is seen by me), but actual Good Service was recognized and rewarded with tangible goodies, therefore hopefully making MORE Good Service likely. And all because one Consumerist-minded customer took the time to document his experience.

There may be a whole other debate here about local versus national outlets, and the dark future of Customer Service as the local retailer is replaced by the bone-crunching force of the Walmart-type national retail juggernauts, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Cheers!

..Chris..”

Comments

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  1. Caged Wisdom says:

    I’m not sure I can agree with Chris’ implication at the end that McAlister’s is capable of good customer service just because they’re a smaller company. If anything, McAlister’s is a great example of a company that is quickly becoming national that still emphasizes good customer service. They already operate in 19 states and are expanding fairly quickly.

    I’ve had a few bad experiences with the McAlister’s locations here in Springfield, MO (mostly extremely long waits for food to go after calling it in well beforehand), but not enough to make me stop going there. The staff is very friendly, and they do seem to go out of their way to make sure that you feel recognized and welcome as soon as you enter the restaurant.

    And they do serve a damned fine glass of iced tea.

  2. kerry says:

    This is a pretty empowering read. Last weekend I was discussing the usefulness of writing a letter to a restaurant to acknowledge good service (or bad service) with a friend over dinner. Turned out our meal became the example in the conversation, as our server couldn’t be arsed to work our table, too, and handed us off to the bartender, who didn’t exactly “serve” us. After waiting 30 minutes between each course, we decided never to visit that particular restaurant again. And it wasn’t some Shoney’s or something, it was a fairly pricey french joint in a major city.

  3. bambino says:

    ahhh austin, home to many fine independent retailers. it can be hit or miss with some of them, but most provide service well beyond your typical chain. no surprise then, that when friends come into town, they always want to ‘go somewhere austin-y’. that’s something you rarely hear in the surrounding suburban-choked big cities (dallas, houston, etc.)
    hook ‘em

  4. I always go to that Cajun place on 6th Street, when in Austin. What’s it called?

  5. Ted Striker says:

    Shit. I’ve been broken up with at that very McAlister’s. I wasn’t really paying attention to how often they topped off my sweet tea. Yet another warning sign I missed. Stupid stupid stupid!